Archive for Rated PG-13

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PodCastle 769: In The Woods Somewhere (or Stories Never Leave)

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


In The Woods Somewhere (or Stories Never Leave)

by Victor Forna

 

Gods Slap Those Who Summon Them.

We shouldn’t have been there — but we were, hiding behind the kola-nut tree, peering into the silver night, parents worried over our empty beds back home, and that’s why we can tell you today, beside this fire, how the old god was summoned from underneath the earth. Pa Yamba, who had changed his name to Peter —

To Ruben.

Don’t interrupt me.

But we’re both telling the story.

Whatever. Pa Yamba, who had changed his name to Ruben, was the only one who opposed the invocation. “These things always go bad,” he said. Bai Masim, chief of traditions, gave Pa Yamba a reply: “We prayed to the god that those priests brought from their lands, we prayed to his son, we even used their shotguns. Has any of that helped us against these – these – what’s the word?” The catholic stayed quiet, blinking too many times. During his silence, we sighted Thara coming out of a nearby hut. Thara wasn’t even a —

You don’t know that. What does it even matter to the story? And, if she wasn’t a virgin, tell me, would her blood have accomplished the summoning? Tell what needs to be told, or I will take it from here.

You could never tell this story better than me. I only mentioned that so they’d understand why the god slapped Thara when he arose. Anyway, before all that, Thara walked naked, hugging herself to cover her breasts from the cold and the lustful eyes of the elders —

They didn’t look at her that way. Come on.

Whatever. The elders led Thara to a small, rectangular pit. Bai Masim showed her how she must stand over it: feet apart, and resting on the longer sides of the opening. Thara stood so for a while, then her blood, streaking down her legs, began dripping into the pit. One. Two. At the third drop, Bai Masim started chanting an uncanny tune, flinging his feet before him like a rabbit in want of freedom from a snare — (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 766: Lockdown Around the Christmas Tree

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


Lockdown Around the Christmas Tree

by Heather Shaw & Tim Pratt

 

What a colossal crapstorm of a year, the third year of infinite garbage in a row, ever since the lockdowns started. The walls came down around Mischa in March 2020, and here they were, still standing, tall and impenetrable, for Christmas 2022.

Then the man in red showed up, and made his offer, and everything changed . . . but before you can understand all that, you need to understand how Mischa ended up alone for the holidays, when seemingly everyone else in the world was out kissing strangers under mistletoe and drinking from communal punch bowls and breathing unventilated indoor air with all their out-of-town relatives again.

Mischa had gotten a kidney transplant in January of 2020, donated by their cousin, which meant they were alive, so that was great, but they were also immunocompromised, which meant when everyone else decided to play pretend that the pandemic was over, Mischa didn’t have the option of joining the game. They had to keep living in reality.

And what a reality it was. It turned out Mischa’s partner didn’t like having a sick lover-slash-housemate-slash-best-friend who’d need help in recovery, so she bailed right before the surgery (and right around the holidays), meaning when the pandemic lockdowns started two months later, Mischa was living alone, taking immunosuppressants, and stewing in a constant broth of anxiety and fear and loneliness. Getting sick and dying alone had been abstract worries for the far future, but now they seemed like immediate possibilities. Mischa’s family lived thousands of miles away, and though their Mom offered to come out and help, Mischa could tell it would be a hardship for her, and lied and said they’d be fine. Then the plague hit, and Mischa was glad they’d declined. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 765: The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship – Part 2

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


The soundtrack featured in this story was composed by our audio engineer Eric Valdes


[Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part novelette. Visit our previous post to read Part 1.]

The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship

by Timothy Mudie

PART TWO

 

Portico. Threshold of the frontier. Jewel of the prairie. A town of graded roads and running water. At least, it had been in the nicer parts, where the rich folk lived, devising their schemes to fleece the desperate men and women passing through on their way to make a living on the frontier. A living that would become much harder once they were taken for whatever meager belongings they had. And no one batted an eye at that. But try turning it around and conning the rich for once, and suddenly you’ve gone too far and get declared persona non grata. Fair play, Al has learned, to his unending chagrin, is not a virtue held by the city mothers and fathers of Portico. His own father least of all.

On the way to town, Al tried to disguise himself with what sparse implements he could lay hands on. With the same knife he uses to play-battle Snake, he lopped off hunks of hair and crudely fashioned them into a push-broom mustache that he affixed to his upper lip with pine sap and prayer. He considered trying for a full beard but couldn’t commit to shearing off all the hair on his head. His hairline has been receding for years; no need to encourage it into a full retreat.

He is supposed to wait his customary one and a half days after Snake begins menacing the town — snatching livestock, hissing and snapping threateningly at passing stagecoaches, the old standbys — but Al’s impatience gets the better of him. This isn’t some newly erected settlement; the people of Portico will fight back, and hard. Despite Al’s warnings, Snake doesn’t truly savvy what she’s in for: doesn’t realize that this town may well outmatch them both.

Al rides into town at full speed, wagon clattering along the uneven dirt until he gets close enough that suddenly the road is graded and even and the wheels fairly slide along it. Snake is nowhere to be seen, hopefully hiding somewhere, biding her time between attacks, ensuring she is seen by enough people to cause panic but not so many as to put her in immediate danger. It’s a dangerous balancing act, their game. The trick to getting people to drink the snake oil is convincing them to fear the snake but trust the salesman. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 764: The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship – Part 1

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


The soundtrack featured in this story was composed by our audio engineer Eric Valdes

 


The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship

by Timothy Mudie

 

Aloysius P. McNutt arrives in town one-and-a-half days after the snake, as per usual. Earlier would be too suspicious, and later risks that the settlers will have attacked the snake themselves, which simply won’t do. Aloysius needs to sell the snake oil to them, which he can’t lay claim to unless he slays the snake himself.

He grins lopsidedly as he sidles into the saloon. “Hear you got yourselves a snake problem.” In these settlements out in the territories, the heart of the community tends toward the saloon or the church, and Al has made a quick presumption that these aren’t a particularly churchly folk.

Rough men and a lesser number of equally rough women line the bar and circle the tables. Clusters of prospectors and farmers sip brandy and rye and harsher libations. All lift their heads in Al’s direction when he pushes through the doors and declaims his customary opening. None respond.

Al is wondering if maybe he should have tried the church after all when a man in a beaten hat wearily pushes himself from the bar. Maybe twice Al’s twenty-nine years, with eyes half again as old, this is a man who’s lived more than most. Despite the drink and the day’s problems weighing on him, the man carries himself with the posture of a lawman. This is Al’s mark. He strides across the room, ignoring the following eyes, and extends his hand in the man’s direction.

“I know a sheriff when I see one,” he says. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. Aloysius P. McNutt, at your service. But I recommend you call me Al. All my friends do, and I’ve a premonition that we’re to be fast friends, you and I.” (Continue Reading…)

PodCastle 763: INDIGENOUS MAGIC – Dying Rivers and Broken Hearts

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


Dying Rivers and Broken Hearts

by Gabriella Buba

 

Manila, Philippines, 1936

 

Maria-Lucia had failed.

In her hand, a freshly struck agimat burned. The copper amulet pressed with the image of the Virgin Mary was hot with the power the coven had gathered from the full moon. Golden light streamed between her clenched fingers.

All eyes were on her, as her first meeting as leader of the Mallari witches after the death of her husband came to a close. The full moon sank into the black waters of Manila bay.

Pasig, the sea-dragon of Manila Bay, had not come to renew her pact with the Mallari Witches, nor to accept Maria-Lucia as their new leader. The dragon went by many names. She was a bakunawa to the sailors from Cebu. In Manila she was a laho, the moon chaser.

“Is it because of me?” Maria silently asked her witch-heart Lucia, “Because I’m not truly a Mallari Witch — only married-in?”

Lucia, normally euphoric after soaking up moonlight and magic with her coven, was hesitant. “I don’t know. She’s come to our call before, why not now?”

(Continue Reading…)

PodCastle 760: INDIGENOUS MAGIC – The Tree Whisperer

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


The Tree Whisperer

by Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe

 

The trees are getting restless. I walk down the beaten forest path, trying my best to ignore their murmurs, but they are too many and their words crowd my mind.

The green will perish . . .

You must warn the people . . .

Call down the wrath of Ileh . . .

I do not reply to any of them. They will only slow me down if I do, and I must be back in the village before nightfall. I duck under a low-hanging branch and crawl till I emerge in a clearing. At the far end stands a tall iroko tree, the oldest in the forest and the leader of the trees: Auzyvre, the tree that was planted by Ileh herself.

Kola.

Auzyvre’s voice is deeper than the voices of the other trees, and immediately as they speak, the entire forest falls quiet. They wave their leaves gently, even though there is no wind. Somewhere in their tall branches, a bird sings an ode to the ending day. I incline my head respectfully when I reach their base and a fresh green leaf falls to my feet, a sign of approval and acceptance.

“Auzyvre. I come with news,” I say.

I can feel the other trees tensing, their branches quivering with anticipation. Auzyvre betrays no emotion like the others, but I can tell that they’re expectant as well.

What news do you bring from the world of men?

“Tarim won’t send the foreigners away,” I say.

The trees howl in disappointment. Yellowed leaves fall to the ground all around me. Their branches shake aggressively and I can feel the ground rumbling a little as some of them move their roots, threatening to rip them out of the earth in their anger.

Enough! Enough!

Auzyvre’s voice cuts through the din, and gradually the trees quiet down. When the last yellow leaf has fallen and the earth has stopped trembling, Auzyvre speaks again.

Kola, you know what will happen if the foreigners do not leave. You know what we must do.

I know. I know what they must do. People will be hurt, or worse. They have done it before, but I cannot let them do it again. The last time the trees acted, innocent people died. This time, if anyone should suffer at all, it should be the ones who have betrayed the earth only. (Continue Reading…)

PodCastle 759: INDIGENOUS MAGIC – Anu and the Vetala

Show Notes

PG-13


Anu and the Vetala

by Srikripa Krishna Prasad

 

The marble-tile floor of King Vikramaditya’s throne room is cold against Anu’s forehead. As she prostrates herself before him, body curled into a ball as her forehead meets the point of her hands, she can’t help the contempt that rises in her throat like vomit. Such riches, while she has to beg in front of the court for a chance at life.
“Rise,” intones the king.
Teeth clacking as she fights back shivers, Anu painstakingly lifts herself to her feet and meets his eyes.
“What brings you here?” he asks, courteous.
Anu breathes in deeply, taking the opportunity to look around the throne room. The marble walls are gilded with gold and tall, carved pillars support the ceiling, which is painted with figures of the king in various battles. Cushions and mats surround the throne where the ministers and court musicians would usually sit — once a week, the king banishes them from court in case they are the subjects of a civilian’s complaint. The throne itself is just how the stories describe it — carved into it are the figures of the thirty-two apsaras, the virtuous spirits who recognized King Vikramaditya as the most noble of kings. The king’s wives are absent; Anu wonders if they are even allowed to be present when the king holds court.
Allowed to. Anu’s mouth curls, and she quickly controls herself. You need him, she reminds herself. He is the most generous of all kings.
“Your Majesty,” she begins at last. “I come at the behest of the many stories told all around the nation of your grace and benevolence. Tales of your generosity and courage have been recited loudly enough to reach even my small village, far in the south.”
The king smiles, pleased. Anu swallows, then continues. “Your Majesty, I have journeyed for one month to bow before you and make a request. You see, I am very ill.” Anu curbs the roll of her eyes as the guards conspicuously move away from her. “The physicians in my village could not find a cure, nor could the ones in the cities around me, until one finally revealed my condition is one that can only be cured by great magic.”
“This is truly unfortunate,” the king says. “What ails you?”
“Intermittent fevers,” Anu replies. “They used to come on every few months, but now they have been occurring weekly. I fear for my life, Your Grace.”
“I see,” the king says, thoughtful. “What is it that you seek from me?”
“I have heard that you employ a sorcerer.”
The king’s eyebrow arches. “Indeed, I do.” He gestures towards a man standing in the far corner of the throne room, who comes forward. He carries a wooden staff and is dressed in a plain, white dhoti. Something about him reminds Anu of a coiled snake about to pounce.
“Speak, sorcerer,” says the king, “and tell this woman if you may assist her.” (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 756: O Cul-de-Sac!

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


O Cul-de-Sac!

by Tim Major

 

O neighbours! If only we might speak!

Do you feel as I feel? Do you think as I think? Here we are, all crouching in our circle, so close to one another. It is maddening.

I see your people come and go. I hear snippets of their conversations. They are happy, your people, are they not? It is healthy, all this coming and going. But we remain rooted, facing one another implacably.

We are so young: sixteen this coming year. How many people have we had between us?

Recently I have paid less attention to your people than to mine, I confess. But in those early days, in those first glimmerings of consciousness, I was empty and I watched you all with intense fascination. There seemed so much to learn, and the opportunities for my education so few. Your people hurried to and fro — on what errands I had no way of imagining — and when they returned they appeared so grateful to see you. I came to distinguish between adults — more direct in their routes across our cul-de-sac, bustling into the cars on your driveways — and children, who dallied and bickered, whose movements were a joy to me. The children belonged to the adults and the adults belonged to you. When your people were nestled within you I gazed at the sky and the fields. I tested the radius of my attention, peering as far beyond my walls as possible. I perceived the disturbances of animals in the long grasses and swooping above me, I saw trees bending with the force of an unseen hand, I saw the rust-coloured roofs of the village that is tied to our cul-de-sac by an umbilical lane. I called out to you. I beckoned to your people. I was alone.

I was unoccupied. (Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 752: The Music on the Hill

Show Notes

Rated PG-13


“Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue” advert voiced, scored, and produced by Eric Valdes.

 

The Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue is an expansion book for the 5th edition of the world’s most litigious roleplaying game, about a city ruled by a council of bizarre and fantastical aristocrats: The people-eating ghouls of the Grave Society, the brutal, feudal aristocrats of the Galloway Orcs, the austere and sinister Church of the Blood Pentarchy, the fey-aligned circus of the Carnival Occultus, and the cruel dark elves of House Evnesh. Find out what they’re up to and how you can stab them in the back by looking for the Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue on Kickstarter now or DriveThruRPG in the future.

Previous books in the series can be found here: https://chamomilehasa.blog/chamomile-has-adventures


The Music on the Hill

by Saki

 

Sylvia Seltoun ate her breakfast in the morning-room at Yessney with a pleasant sense of ultimate victory, such as a fervent Ironside might have permitted himself on the morrow of Worcester fight. She was scarcely pugnacious by temperament, but belonged to that more successful class of fighters who are pugnacious by circumstance. Fate had willed that her life should be occupied with a series of small struggles, usually with the odds slightly against her, and usually she had just managed to come through winning. And now she felt that she had brought her hardest and certainly her most important struggle to a successful issue. To have married Mortimer Seltoun, “Dead Mortimer” as his more intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold hostility of his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to women, was indeed an achievement that had needed some determination and adroitness to carry through; yesterday she had brought her victory to its concluding stage by wrenching her husband away from Town and its group of satellite watering-places and “settling him down,” in the vocabulary of her kind, in this remote wood-girt manor farm which was his country house.

“You will never get Mortimer to go,” his mother had said carpingly, “but if he once goes he’ll stay; Yessney throws almost as much a spell over him as Town does. One can understand what holds him to Town, but Yessney . . . ” and the dowager had shrugged her shoulders.

(Continue Reading…)

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PodCastle 751: Flash Fiction Extravaganza – Mortality

Show Notes

Rated PG-13.


“Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue” advert voiced, scored, and produced by Eric Valdes.

 

The Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue is an expansion book for the 5th edition of the world’s most litigious roleplaying game, about a city ruled by a council of bizarre and fantastical aristocrats: The people-eating ghouls of the Grave Society, the brutal, feudal aristocrats of the Galloway Orcs, the austere and sinister Church of the Blood Pentarchy, the fey-aligned circus of the Carnival Occultus, and the cruel dark elves of House Evnesh. Find out what they’re up to and how you can stab them in the back by looking for the Traveler’s Guide to the City of Intrigue on Kickstarter now or DriveThruRPG in the future.

Previous books in the series can be found here: https://chamomilehasa.blog/chamomile-has-adventures


The Stars That Fall

by Samantha Murray

 

When Sara asks me if I want to go doom-spotting I say yes. Of course I say yes. The Edge Lookout is dark and rocky and romantic, and I usually say yes to anything Sara suggests. And I’ve been addicted to doom-hunting ever since I was nine and got my first telescope.

“Why do you need to see it? You know it’s up there,” Ibu says, as I lug my viewing gear out to the car. All of my aunt’s once-dark hair is grey now.

“It’s meant to be lucky, if you find it,” I tell her.

“Mmpffh, lucky,” she says in her dry voice. Ibu does not believe in luck, only unluck.

(Continue Reading…)